Saturday, 30 October 2010


"To point to his modest military record and say it is the cause of his occasional flashes of international assertiveness is to ignore a good deal of the evidence and to lack a bit of common sense."
That's Nathan Williams yesterday criticizing Lin Cho-shui's profile of Xi Jinping as "assertive" due to his having something of a military background. I'm not sure exactly what Nathan imagines the significance of his point to be, but I think the emphasis he places on distinguishing civilian and military leadership...
"PLA budget growth began after Tiananmen and accelerated rapidly under civilian, not military, leadership."
.... is misplaced. It would be naive to imagine the PLA as simply subservient to, rather than parasitical on the civilian leadership in the CCP. As Lin Cho-shui himself says:
"...the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has always played a crucial role in the CCP’s internecine power struggles."
... and later...
"...the more the PLA was kept at arms length from the party and government, the more it developed into a kingdom of its own."


  1. My argument is simply that Xi's modest military experience is not a determining factor in his political behavior, as Lin would have us believe. It may be insignificant, as you say, but simply because one pushed a pencil as a CMC secretary--or was a grunt (which was not the case with Xi)--is not a determining factor in his "international assertiveness." It is possible, of course, but that raises the question: why was Deng's position one of low international profile for China while the civilian leadership has been more assertive? Yes, the military establishment puts pressure on Chinese leaders--as it does in any country in which civilians control the reins of government (even in the United States, the politico-military establishment has enormous sway in political [and even economic] decision making)--but this does not mean that a particular leader's personal military experience has any direct causal relationship with his level of "international assertiveness." In this sense, China's civilian leaders since the reforms of 1978 (Jiang and Hu) have been much more assertive the leader with an extensive military background (Deng). One needs to look at interest groups within the Party--and the military is of course one of these and is quite powerful--not individuals per se when attempting to determine China's trajectory. Xi is yet quite constrained as heir-apparent; I would argue that more recent developments in the international arena, on China's periphery, and in China's security environment had a larger effect on Xi's comments, which were probably worded by Party members and not Xi himself (of course he could add personal flare), than Xi's modest military experience.

    (By the way, the name is Nathan [William] Novak.)

  2. OK - well that clears up my confusion - William is actually your middle name and Novak is your actual surname.

    I'll grant your point Nathan, but I suspect you may be playing it a little loose with this:

    "...why was Deng's position one of low international profile for China while the civilian leadership has been more assertive?"

    Different geopolitical situation surely. China was not in quite the same position it is in today - nor, more crucially perhaps, was the United States. In the case of China the more obvious sense of that shift has been economic (though the demographic shift is arguably more important), but in the U.S. I would argue that the key change has been in the deterioration of memory.

  3. Sure, Mike. Your point is valid, too. My only point was that military experience is not a determiner, at least not to the extent Mr. Lin believes it is.

    Enjoy your posts. Sorry I haven't had much time to respond lately--classes and all. Will chime in from time to time.


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